Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Toronto City Council Adopts Billboard Tax and Comprehensive New Signs By-Law

Fighting the encroachment of commercial messages in our shared public spaces happens in many different ways. In Toronto, they have recently won a hard fought legal battle which will regulate signage in the city with an unprecedented billboard tax. We commend Rami Tabello and all of the the activists and artist who worked incredibly hard to challenge the abusive outdoor advertising companies that once reigned supreme on the streets of this marvelous Canadian city. The new by-law is an indication that the public, through hard work and perseverance, can actually alter the space they live in and create for themselves the city they so desire.


It was a fantastic day at City Council and someday we should let you know the inside scoop of how a rag tag team of public space and arts activists beat a murder of high priced billboard lobbyists and convinced City Council to adopt the Buildings Departments’ recommendations to adopt a $10.4 Million billboard tax and new by-law to regulate billboards. [More Here]

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Billboard Industry Uses Illegal Billboards to Promote

In typical OOH advertising industry fashion, illegality abounds in Toronto. In an effort to convince the public that a small tax on billboard advertising will run the OOH business into the ground, OOH companies in Toronto have been hanging their own public service announcements around town. This is in spite of the fact that the city of Toronto, in an independent study sees the tax reflecting a mere 7% of the ad industries revenue. This is on top of the fact that the tax will go to supporting much needed public arts funding in Toronto. I can't even begin to explain the complexity of the *$%#storm surrounding this battle so I would suggest going straight to the source if you have any interest.


"How fitting. We have discovered that the Out of Home Marketing Association is using illegal billboards to promote" [MORE HERE]

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Illegal Billboards In The Annex-Toronto Outdoor Advertising Takeover

This takeover in Toronto was just sent to me by the Duspa Corner Collective. It is fantastic to see just how widespread the discontent is for illegal signage and the general disdain many people have for outdoor advertising in general. Congratulations to everyone involved in this project for a successful liberation and your use non-violent civil disobedience.

Toronto, October 3, 2009- The Dupsa Corner Collective (DCC) has
undertaken a public art project that has targeted fifteen illegal
billboards in the Annex early this morning. The timing of this project
has been chosen to correspond with the city of Toronto’s Sign By-Law
Project and Alternative Nuit Blanche activities.

The installations depict images of birds in flight. Through art we can
transform the often depressing, concrete cityscape to something
beautiful and wild. Furthermore, birds often symbolize freedom. The
DCC envisions neighbourhoods free from visual pollution, corporate
manipulation, and interests that aim to divide community through the
individualistic ritual of consumption.

In support of stronger billboard regulations and a more creative city,
the DCC aims to bring attention to the upcoming meetings between
members of Toronto’s By-Law project and the Planning and Growth
Management Committee.

Meetings originally scheduled for the week of October 5 have now been
moved to November 4. The Sign By-Law Team will be putting forward
proposals including a New Sign By-law, Third-Party Sign Tax, and ideas
for enforcement. Details of the report and project can be found on the
city of Toronto’s website at:

Public art tends to foster a greater respect, responsibility, and
pride for one’s community. Let us focus on strengthening community
bonds rather than allowing unbridled corporatism to divide our

The DCC’s billboard installations can be found both in the air and on
the ground.

The Dupont and Spadina Corner Collective
(647) 298-6785

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Billboard watchdogs clean up skylines

VIA The Christian Science Monitor

Standing amid the assortment of new and old buildings in downtown Toronto, Rami Tabello clearly relishes his role as crusader: “Take a look at my handiwork,” he boasts, pointing to a rectangle of discolored brick several stories high on...[MORE HERE]

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Documentary on Illegal Billboards in Toronto

I love the fact that Toronto calls for a special enforcement unit to take care of the proliferation of illegal advertisements. Let it be known we have such a unit in New York City and they are so over burdened that public activist calling out over 130 illegal advertisements has rendered little to no results. In fact, the process of calling out said advertisements resulted in the arrest of 4 concerned public citizens. We not only gave the DOB Sign enforcement unit a map of NPA City Outdoor illegal locations, but provided photographic documentation as well. Despite this fact, no action has been taken against the offending outdoor advertising company. When does it become a citizens responsibility to act outside the law because the law cannot enforce the public's wishes?

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Posterchild Weighs in on the World

Every so often, there is someone who I want to know more about. I ask them some questions and they answer them in the typical fashion. Sometimes I get great stuff, sometimes not. Other times I get detailed descriptions of how to change the world we live in and it floors me. Thank you so much to Posterchild for having the vision and the words to fully explain yourself.

Why do you create work in the public?

Man, that should be easier to answer than it is. I think maybe this
question was easier to answer when I was younger and just starting.
Full of manifestos and bluster and whatnot. Now there are so many more
caveats and complications and doubts. Or maybe they’ve always been
there, but they’ve had time to grow. ANYWAY, In brief, I work in the
public, because that’s where PEOPLE are. I want to connect and
communicate. The street is the first -maybe best- place to do that.

Why do you create work over/using outdoor advertising?

Because that’s what already in the public. It’s extremely aggressive,
everywhere, and often illegal. I throw my own 2 cents into the mob,
and I don’t see that as being particularily worse ( any more “illegal”
or immoral) than what these groups are doing already. In fact, I think
it’s much better. But is that two wrongs?

Tell us something about where you live and your relationship to your city.

I live in Toronto, and it is the greatest city and the worst city. I
love it. But I’m often frustrated by it. I feel like it has so much
potential and so many people working towards bettering it. Toronto has
been unusually blessed with a very large number of people who care so
deeply about it and work so passionately for it. We love the TTC even
though it’s underfunded, overcrowded, and runs despiteful, adversarial
ads that frame us and treat us like criminals.

How would you describe your relationship with advertising?

Complex. Advertising informs so much of what I do. Advertising is at
the core of graffiti and street art. Advertising is the genisis for
modern graffiti. Advertising begat graffiti which begat street art,
which both beget more advertising. I’ve never claimed to be a culture
jammer or ad buster. I don’t exist soley in opposition to
advertisting, and if it were to sweept off our street tomorrow, I’d
still be doing my thing out there. But advertising feeds me. It
provides near guilt-free surfaces to create work on. Many a discarded
box of wildposting posters has had their contents become a stencil or
a poster. I love to literally “Flip” and ad, and make my own work on
the back. It’s weird. I dislike advertising, but I’m disapointed when
I find a video billboard has been removed because it is the required
surface for creating art on, for creating my art with, and it is now
gone, you know? True, I just need to walk a few blocks to find a new
one, but still, working with advertising has made ads an interegal,
needed element of those artworks, and that can create a weird,
interesting conflict.

Having done both, is there a difference between working in Toronto or New York?

Yes. Many. I’ll need to do more work on NY before I’m ready to draw
clear distinctions. But there are differences to be sure. Every city
is different. You need to really get to know a city- you need a
healthier, stronger realationship with the city than I have with NY
before you can really work successfully- that is, like an insightful,
engaged local- within the cities space. You can still make work -good
work- without that engagement, but I think it could have a “tourist”
feel to locals.

Tell us one of your favorite moments working on the street.

Hmm. Maybe when a drunk dude came and used his drunken strength to
help TEETH and I get these heavy sheets of particle board in place so
I could screw them into the lil’ billboard we were taking over.
Crowdsourced labour!

If you could run a fantasy camp, what would it be?

Oh man. I guess I would run a camp for city commuters. I would make
all the car drivers ride bikes. You would have to surrender your keys
when you entered the camp. There would be a week of lessons (including
classes on bike maintenance and repair) and practice and fun rides
around the city and it’s parks. There would be history tours and
architecture tours and street art/graffiti tours and food tours and
other themed tours- campers could sign up for whatever tours sounded
interesting to them! And when the week is up, then it’s back to work-
but we keep your keys! After another week, you’d get your car keys
back at a reunion where everyone could share war stories of their week
of bike commuting, have drinks, and cement friendships! The camp would
provide bikes for anyone who wanted to take the camp, but couldn’t
afford it, and provide safe rides home after the reunion party for
anyone unfit to ride a bike or drive a car. We would form partnerships
with city politicians and corporate leaders, encouraging corporate and
civic groups of campers- and use funds (and awareness) raised by the
camp to push for more tax dollars for bike lanes, lockups, and
infrastructure, and less tax money going to support car culture.

Hell, that sounds good. Lets do it.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Station Domination Reports For The TTC

I just googled "station-domination", a term used to reference when advertising takes over a train station in a metropolitan subway transportation system. The second hit was of of Joe Clark's website It is an assessment of Toronto's reports over the past few years on the effectiveness and general user support for station-domination in the Toronoto subway system. Doesn't seem like they had any reason to go forward with implementing the use of station domination and yet it seems they did. [The truth about station-domination advertising in the TTC]

"More people are opposed to station domination. When asked the question “If the TTC were to allow advertising on the floors, ceilings, and pillars of subway stations, would you be” in favour or opposed? 43% were opposed, while only 39% were in favour. 15% didn’t care. 3% would have to see the ads first."

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According to the Toronto Star, When People See Dan Bergeron in the Street, They Seethe and Stomp Away in Disdain

This post comes from Rami Tabello of Toronto's The long story short is Fauxreel, or Dan Bergeron was active in Canada as a street artist and then produced an ad campaign for Vespa that was almost indistinguishable from his personal street work.

Support comes from the public as well. On Queen Street West, a passing cyclist hears Mr. Tabello talking about billboards and stops to congratulate him on his efforts.

“Commercial activity or captivity?” by Susan Krashinsky, The Globe and Mail, June 2, 2008

We covered the Fauxreel sellout issue before, namely in Fauxreel Sold Out For Real where we noted that Dan Bergeron’s fellow street artists had a thing or two to say about his decision to become a blatant criminal shill for Vespa. The issue was also covered by Torontoist and by Anne Elizabeth Moore.

The Toronto Star has now written an interesting article about Bergeron. First, Bergeron uses the opportunity to piss on his critics:

Not long after being outed, one of Bergeron’s personal pieces, a woman in profile with a gravity-defying mohawk pasted up near Dufferin St., had scrawled on it the street-art equivalent of a scarlet letter: “SOLD OUT FOR REAL.”

Bergeron shrugs off the debate as juvenile. “Some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction if something is commercial – because they’re too cool,” he says.

Then this remarkable tidbit from the end of the story:

Bergeron squats low, pasting the boots of his subject to the wall on Dowling St., when a young woman crosses the street and beelines towards him. “I just wanted to come up to congratulate you,” she says. “I’ve seen this all over. It really makes a statement.”

Bergeron quietly thanks her and turns back to his paste, when a young man in a fedora and cargo shorts approaches. “Is that the same ad for the scooters?” he says, glaring. Bergeron just smiles. “Yeah, man. It is,” he says. The man stares, seething, and stomps away. Bergeron slathers the last of his paste on the image’s toes, and moves on to the next.

Actually, some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction because it’s not just an unmitigated criminal sellout — it’s an unmitigated criminal sellout that threatens public support for street artists. Perhaps Dan Bergeron can explain to us how can campaign against illegal advertising and support street art, when the ads are camouflaged as street art. That’s why Dan Bergeron’s corruption is a collateral attack on, and that’s why people seethe when they see Dan Bergeron, and that’s why they stomp away: because Dan Bergeron was an irresponsible, selfish asshole whose criminality pit public space activists against street artists, and who then had the hauteur to call us “juvenile” and “too cool” for pointing that out. You may think it’s “juvenile,” but we’re not the one who is counting Vespa’s money in our basement while fending off random haters on the street.

My thoughts are as a street artist, reclaiming public space for public consumption, you can't also be taking public space for private commercial means. The two ideas mutually exclude each other in their efforts and therefor confuse the intent of the artist. To think that as an artist you can practice such different ideal, shows ignorance to what you are actually doing as a street artist and ultimately depoliticizes your work.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Toronto Making Huge Strides

Rami Tabello's tipped me off to the billboard tax being pushed through by in Toronto. Obviously this is an ingenious way to begin funding the public arts and a way for the advertising world to pay the citizens of this world back for the mental abuse we have been put through daily in our public spaces. I think of the tax as the rent advertisers must pay for the space they take up in my head.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

MTV News Coverage of

It seems like this issue gains more momentum every morning I wake up. Proof positive of this is a segment on Rami Tabello of, aired on MTV. If spreading the word and winning the battle over public opinion is what this is all about, I think we might just be headed in the right direction.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

CBC TV News Coverage of

Recent news coverage of campaign against illegal signs in Toronto.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Understanding Illegal Wall Signs

Just found this on the website. This site is an amazing resource for understanding how we can fight the progress of the public advertising industry.

There are about 200 3rd party vinyl wall signs in downtown Toronto – and about 175 of them are illegal. Most of the recent illegal sign development has occurred with vinyl wall signs. Understanding how this is happening requires an appreciation of the difference between a fascia sign and a mural sign, as the Toronto Signs By-Law defines them. You see, most illegal vinyl signs actually have 3rd party sign permits – mural permits, permits for hand-painted signs. Why? Because murals are not subject to Separation of Signs - our most important sign control by-law.

The By-Law defines a mural like this: “A sign painted directly on the face of a wall.” A fascia, on the other hand, is defined as: “A sign mounted wholly against the wall of a building.”

A painted mural sign is difficult and very expensive to execute – it requires days of work by a highly skilled (and licensed) sign painter. An advertising-quality mural typically costs upwards of $25,000 to execute and can take weeks, depending on the weather - a major part of that cost is the vacancy cost of not having an ad on the wall during the painting process. Murals also require a sidewalk occupation permit if they face a street. Profitably operating a 3rd party mural sign is impossible except in very high traffic locations that vandals can’t reach, especially if the sign is non-illuminated. For these reasons, Non-Illuminated Mural signs are not heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law - they are restricted by their intrinsic nature.

Fascia signs, on the other hand, which include computer-printed vinyl signs affixed to the side of buildings, are very cheap to execute for advertising companies. For this reason, fascia signs are heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law.

What’s happening is straightforward: advertising companies are obtaining permits for non-illuminated mural signs, which they can obtain for pretty much any wall, and then illegally erecting vinyl fascia signs because they can’t profitably operate hand painted murals on those sites. What has helped the industry most is Municipal Licensing and Standards, which is supposed to enforce the Signs By-Law, but doesn’t know the difference between a fascia sign and a mural; and the Buildings Department, which is supposed to promptly inspect newly constructed signs, but has allowed mural permits to go un-inspected for years.

With the City now taking action against illegal fascias, pursuant to our complaints, the industry’s lobbyist is making a desperate push to post-facto legalize the industry’s fascia sign sites – this would have the effect of legalizing the majority of illegal wall signs in Toronto. The Planning Department will oppose this scheme if they can stop laughing at it.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Signs By-Law treats fascias vs. murals. A 3rd party Fascia is not permitted within 60M of other non-mural 3rd party signs – this restriction does not apply to non-illuminated murals. This is the exact wording of the Separation of Signs By-Law:

No person shall erect or display or cause to be erected or displayed a fascia, ground, roof, pedestal or illuminated mural sign used for the purposes of third party advertising unless it is separated by a minimum radius of sixty (60) metres from any other such sign used for the purposes of third party advertising.

The following table illustrates the stark difference in the way the Signs By-Law treats non-illuminated murals and fascias:

Attribute Restriction on Non-Illuminated Murals Restriction on Fascias
Within 60M of another 3rd party sign No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(1)
Within 300M of another sign over 70 M2 No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(2)
Size Max: 100 M2 per 297-10D(11)(a) Max: 25 M2 per 297-10D(5)(g)
Out of the 175 illegal fascia signs in Toronto, about 100 of them are operating under non-illuminated mural permits. The rest have no permits or 1st party permits, mainly because they are erected in a location where even a 3rd party non-illuminated mural is restricted – like on a historical building or a on a wall facing a street.

Remember Murad? Murad Communications used to run painted advertising signs all over downtown, but they couldn’t cut it anymore. It simply became unprofitable to operate painted signs due to the vast increase in advertising square footage in Toronto – driven by our Planning Department which seriously botched the Signs By-Law from day 1. The Murads were all operating under non-illuminated permits, which means Murad couldn’t legally reach evening rush hour for half the year.

And then Murad, which had its share of enemies in the outdoor advertising industry, was hit by devastating paint bombings which destroyed scores of its ads, interrupted advertising campaigns, and made operating painted signs intolerable for mission critical campaigns.

Computer printed vinyl technology was developed in one of those industry-academic collaborations by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Financed by a consortium of billboard companies, MIT scientists worked with MetroMedia Technologies for the specific goal of creating robotically produced outdoor graphics. MetroMedia (whose TV stations created the FOX network) introduced the technology to the billboard industry in 1987. By August 1993, when the cost of printing vinyl was still no less than the cost of manually painting a sign, Murad’s Michael Chesney was quoted as saying: “Sooner or later it won’t make sense for a guy to manually paint a billboard and get the nose wrong when you can get it right through a computer, cheaper.” Except you can’t get it right through a computer, cheaper, legally. At least not in the good ‘ole City of Toronto. And that’s pretty much the only thing the Planning Department ever got right about our Signs By-Law.

Of course, operating outside the law never bothered Murad much; even before Murad used illegal vinyl it was illegally illuminating more than half its billboards.

As a technology-intensive good, the cost of computer printed vinyl decreased rapidly. So, as Mr. Chesney predicted, Murad started to use illegal vinyl in lieu of paint, fired its muralists, and, in 1997, perhaps because he saw the writing on the wall, Mr. Chesney sold his company for US$5.5 Million to Mediacom/CBS who, in turn, sold 14 Murad sites to Titan a few years ago - a smart move on CBS’s part, a move that allowed CBS to capture a portion of the economic value from running illegal fascia on those 14 sites without actually running illegal fascia themselves. But not that smart… because CBS is still left with 16 illegal vinyl fascia signs in Toronto, all of which are soon to be history.

Astral Media, Megaposter and Abcon are also operating illegal fascia signs on these old Murad sites because they, too, can’t turn a profit while complying with their non-illuminated mural permits.

When the Signs By-Law is enforced against illegal fascias operating under non-illuminated mural permits, advertising will disappear from most of these old Murad sites as well as the 50-odd illegal fascia sites recently developed under non-illuminated mural permits. There are a few mural sites which have attributes required for profitable mural operation: ambient illumination, great demographic targeting, high visibility, difficult to vandalize - but those sites are few and far between.

Nobody anywhere in the world is investing a dime in technology to make painting signs cheaper - globally, painted signs are being legally displaced by cheaper and cheaper computer printed vinyl. The technology for computer printed vinyl has now reached developing countries. The City of Toronto is the only place in the world that we know of that puts significantly fewer restrictions on painted signs, the only City we know of where displacing a painted sign with vinyl is illegal. A company that invests in technology to make painted signs cheaper would be investing in an autarky - you can’t propagate that technology anywhere in the world outside the boundaries of the Former City of Toronto. That’s why billboards on mural permits are headed to the dustbin of history: because you can’t legally operate vinyl and the relative globally-benchmarked productivity of the painter’s labour doesn’t make economic sense anymore. Globalization killed them. Murad’s signs, which do little more than promote transnational brand hegemonies, have been hoisted on their own petard.

By the time is done, large format vinyl fascia signs will be finished in Toronto, and so will the local sub-industry that has developed around them.

And then the people of Toronto will once again see walls they haven’t seen in years.

UPDATE: Titan Outdoor has sued the City of Toronto over enforcements of fascia signs on mural permits.

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